I’ve never really been an advocate of the suits versus skins debate that seems to be the kind of thing swimmers chat about when they either have a brand new wetsuit they want to talk about, or its winter and there is a mischievous sense of getting one up on the people in neoprene.  My diplomatic response is always to wear what you are most comfortable with in the water, ranging from nothing (!) to everything, including the woolly hat aunt Mavis knitted for you last Christmas.  But since joining #TeamSelkie I have been able to quietly and discreetly, even though I am not an advocate of the argument, test the suits versus skins thing for myself.  


Last summer I set myself the challenge of swimming the Thames Marathon even though at 14 kilometres, it was more than twice the distance I had ever swum before.  To get through it I had to be a man of focus, commitment and when it came to the final stage of the swim, sheer will. When I got in the water I adopted my swim like a polar bear approach ‘front paws in line with the shoulders, back paws kicking, just keep going and don’t get cold’.



Matthew in his Selkie Spirit wetsuit entering the water for the start of the Thames Marathon in 2018


In the SPIRIT wetsuit that Selkie had lent me, the marathon took me 4 hours and 40 minutes.  I have to admit that I really enjoyed wearing the wetsuit.  All the ‘negative’ things that I associated with wetsuits such as chafing, changes in body position, over-heating, just didn’t materialise.  It was a great swim in a great wetsuit.  I did ‘flush’ the wetsuit at the neck with fresh water regularly to keep my body cool. 



Matthew with his finisher’s medal at the Thames Marathon in August 2018


The distance of 14 kilometres was a fair testing ground in my view as I felt that a test of just a kilometre or a mile on the same day was not really fair, as someone could sprint in the first run and then be exhausted by the time of the second run.  It would not have been the suit or the skin that was on test but the person’s fitness.  So I signed up for the Henley Swim Thames Marathon again this year but asked for a non-wetsuit ‘skins’ place.  The distance was too far for it to be a sprint and the time difference of a year meant I would be fully recovered for the second ‘run’. 

Admittedly over the year in-between, I did do a lot more work on my technique and fitness so I was probably fitter for the skins run than I had been for the suit.  However I hadn’t swum more than 7 kilometres in one go in the lead up to the event last time and I didn’t swim more than 7 kilometres in one go in the lead up this time.  Amazingly the weather leading up to the events had been pretty similar each year so there was minimal flow in the river, it was as fair a comparison as it could be.

When I got in the water for my non-wetsuit place, it felt really quite warm and I went back into my ‘polar bear’ mode.  Somehow this year felt more like a race than last year was, even though I had held back at the start of my wave to let the faster swimmers get a clear lead and so avoid the churning and kicking that group swimming can bring.



The start of the Thames Marathon 2019


Last year, at the first feed station one of the Wild Swimming Brother’s (#teamselkie’s Jack Hudson) greeted me as we were getting in the water “Matty” and I was immortalised in his video of the event asking him who he was.  This year, in the second stage of a swim as I switched to breaststroke to catch my breath for a moment, another #teamselkie swimmer Zoe Tridgell appeared in front of me and says “Matty” and then introduces herself as I am hard of hearing at the best of times.  The volunteers and fellow swimmers that said hello really helped to keep my spirits up throughout the event. I wasn’t feeling remotely cold but I did enjoy being offered a hot drink at the second feeding stage on the grounds that I was a skins swimmer.  Having done it last year in a Selkie wetsuit, this year I was in my Selkie swimsuit, and it took me 4 hours and 44 minutes to make across the finish line.



Matthew with his Thames Marathon medal in August 2019


The results of my experiment came in and over 14 kilometres in a wetsuit, I swam pretty much dead on 50 metres per minute.  The same distance without a wetsuit, I swam 49.3 metres per minute.  That is 70 centimetres faster per minute in a suit,so in speed terms suits win the argument!  That’s coming from a skins swimmer too.  However in real terms, it took about the same length of time to swim the same distance and I enjoyed each swim equally as much as the other.  Swimming is not about the one upping in terms of kit or tolerance of the cold.  It’s about being able to enjoy the water comfortably and safely and share the good times with others.



Matthew and #TeamSelkie friends Sam McNair, Stephen Peters, Katia Vastiau and Jon Greenwood at the Thames Marathon 2018